Ten of the world's biggest automakers are being sued for concealing the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning due to keyless ignitions.
The complaint, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, relates to more than 5 million vehicles equipped with the technology that lets a driver start a vehicle by pushing an on-off button, rather than using a key, once the vehicle senses the presence of a nearby electronic fob fitted with an RFID tag.
According to the 28 named plaintiffs, the system results in drivers assuming their engine will automatically switch off when they take their fob with them, but the vehicle is in fact left running meaning deadly but odourless carbon monoxide continues to be emitted and can collect in garages.
The lawsuit claims that the defect has led to 13 deaths and many injuries and states that automakers have long known about the risks of keyless ignitions, which have been available in the United States since at least 2003. They said 27 complaints have been lodged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) since 2009 over the technology.
"The automakers had actual knowledge of the dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning consequences of vehicles with keyless fobs that lack an automatic shut-off," the complaint said.
Installing an inexpensive feature to automatically turn off unattended engines could have easily solved the issue, the complaint says, noting that GM and Ford even took steps to patent a shut-off feature.
The defendants are BMW, including Mini; Daimler's Mercedes Benz; Fiat Chrysler; Ford; General Motors; Honda, including Acura; Hyundai, including Kia; Nissan, including Infiniti; Toyota, including Lexus; and Volkswagen, including Bentley.
The lawsuit seeks class-action status and an injunction requiring automakers to install automatic shut-off features on all existing and future vehicles sold with keyless ignitions. It also seeks compensatory and punitive damages. The complainants claim the defect reduces their vehicles' resale values.
Ford said it takes customer safety "very seriously," and said its keyless ignition system has proven "safe and reliable." BMW, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota declined to comment. None of the other automakers had an immediate comment.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs declined to comment. A US Department of Transportation spokesman declined to comment on the NHTSA's behalf.